Willie A. (Big Willie) Robinson is again promoting his plan to build a drag strip that would steer the interests of youngsters away from Uzi machine guns and crack pipes toward grease guns and chrome tailpipes.
Ten years after the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners rejected his idea of building a drag strip at Los Angeles International Airport, Robinson is eyeing vacant airport property near Palmdale as an alternative site.
Robinson, president and founder of the National and International Brotherhood of Street Racers, met Wednesday with commissioners to discuss his idea.
Standing 6 feet, 6 inches tall and wearing a black beret, a leather vest, camouflage pants and army boots, Robinson showed board members several videotapes made by television news shows about the drag-racing programs he has operated in the past.
For a $5 fee, young racing enthusiasts compete against one another on a track that features starter lights. The alcohol-free events have been virtually without incident, Robinson said.
But because the board's agenda was long and included such contentious items as a study on the possibilities of selling LAX, board President Robert Chick rescheduled Robinson's item to June.
Robinson said he would still prefer to locate the drag strip on property at the southwest corner of LAX because it is closer to the inner city, where he said his diversion programs are most needed. But he said that he has conducted initial studies on building the raceway at Palmdale Regional Airport and that a program there would be better than no program at all.
"We are not going to give up on Palmdale, because it's better than zero," Robinson said after the meeting.
Before proposing to build a racetrack at LAX, Robinson and his supporters, including the Los Angeles Police Department, organized drag races off and on for five years on vacant land at Terminal Island.
But the Los Angeles Harbor Commission halted the races in 1984, saying the land was needed for more profitable harbor uses. That move, he said, eliminated a vital youth activity that eased racial tensions by bringing black and white youngsters together in a friendly setting.
"When it comes to racing, white, black, yellow, they all come together," he told commissioners. "Nobody cares about your color."
Robinson, an Inglewood resident who helped form the racing club in 1966, said he has enough supporters, including some large automotive parts companies, to raise the money needed to build the project.
But he said he needs a written commitment from airport commissioners before he can tap his sponsors for money. "There are so many people that want to see this project get off the ground that money is no problem," he said.
He said it would cost $8,000 to conduct studies and obtain permits necessary to build the drag strip. Construction would cost another $3.9 million, according to an estimate by a Long Beach company that specializes in raceway construction.
But some officials in Palmdale said they have never heard of Robinson's ideas and would need more details before backing his plan.
"I just want to know more about it," Palmdale Councilman Joe Davies said. "I'm certainly not opposed to drag racing. I just can't quite figure out where they would propose to do it."
Mayor James Ledford was similarly cautious. "It might be something we could offer to kids," he said. "Any activity would be better than no activity."